- AIM-54 Phoenix
type=Long-range air-to-air missile
United States Navy Iran
Hughes Aircraft Company
Solid propellantrocket motor
weight=1,000-1,040 lb (454-472 kg)
length=13 ft (3.9 m)
diameter=15 in (380 mm)
wingspan=3 ft (900 mm)
vehicle_range=100+ NM (115+ mi, 184+ km)
ceiling=100,000 ft (30 km)
altitude=80,000 ft (24 km)
filling=135 lb (60 kg),
active radar homing
F-14 TomcatThe AIM-54 Phoenix is a radar-guided, long-range air-to-air missile, carried in clusters of up to six missiles — formerly on the U.S. Navy's and currently on the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force's, F-14 Tomcatinterceptors/multi-role fighters: which is the only aircraft capable of carrying it.
The AIM-54 was originally developed in the early 1960s for the canceled F-111B naval variant, and based on the Eagle project for the canceled
F6D Missileer. Both were based on the idea of long-range, slow-cruise, non-maneuvering missile carriers to counter long-range bombers carrying low-flying cruise missiles. It had no use for close-range air superiority.
The Phoenix missile was the
United States' only long-range air-to-air missile, and its first missile capable of multiple-launch against more than one target.
Most other U.S. aircraft relied on the smaller, less-expensive
AIM-7 Sparrow; classified as a Medium Range Missile (MRM). Guidance for the Sparrow required that the launching aircraft use its radar to continuously illuminate a single target for the missile seeker to track, or guidance would be lost. This method meant the aircraft no longer had a search capability while supporting the launched Sparrow, effectively reducing situational awareness.
The Tomcat's AWG-9 radar was capable of tracking up to 24 targets in
Track-While-Scanmode, with the AWG-9 selecting up to six priority targets for potential launch by the AIM-54. The pilot or Radar Intercept Officer(RIO) could then launch the AIM-54 Phoenix missiles when launch parameters were met. The large Tactical Information Display (TID) in the RIO's cockpit gave an unprecedented amount of information to the aircrew (the pilot had the ability to monitor the RIO's display) and, importantly, the AWG-9 could continually search and track multiple targets after Phoenix missiles were launched, thereby maintaining situational awarenessof the Battlespace.
Link-4 datalink capability allowed U.S. Navy Tomcats to share information with the E-2C Hawkeye AEW aircraft, and during
Desert Shieldin 1990, the Link-4A was introduced and allowed the Tomcats to have a fighter-to-fighter datalink capability, further enhancing overall situational awareness. The F-14D entered service with the JTIDS that brought the even better Link-16 datalink "picture" to the cockpit.
The Phoenix has several guidance modes and achieves its longest range by using mid-course updates from the F-14A's AWG-9 radar (APG-71 radar in the F-14B and F-14D versions) as it climbs to cruise between convert|80000|ft|m|-3|abbr=on and convert|100000|ft|m|-4|abbr=on at close to Mach 5. Utilizing its high altitude to gain kinetic energy, the missile dives towards its target and activates its terminal phase, active radar system for the final phase of the flight.
By comparison, the
AIM-120 AMRAAMradar-guided, medium-range air-to-air missile uses an on-board computer, made possible by digital technology, to compute a collision course to the target. It can be updated by the launching aircraft, before also using an active seeker in its final phase.
The AIM-54/AWG-9 combination was the first to have multiple track capability (up to 24 targets) and launch (up to 6 Phoenixes can be launched nearly simultaneously); the large Auto lb|1000|-2 missile is equipped with a conventional warhead. The airframe is a scaled-up version of the USAF
AIM-47 Falconwith 4 cruciform fins. 4 can be carried under the fuselage tunnel attached to special aerodynamic pallets, and 1 under each glove station. A full load of 6 Phoenix missiles and the unique launch rails weigh in at over Auto lb|8000|-2, about twice the weight of Sparrows, so it was more common to carry a mixed load of 4 Phoenix, 2 Sparrow and 2 Sidewinder missiles. Depending on the source, there are reports that an F-14 could not be recovered on a carrier with all 6 missiles, but only 2 or 4.
Long range fleet defense missile
The Phoenix was designed to defend the
Carrier Battle Groupagainst a variety of threats including cruise missiles, and its range and loiter capability provided defense in depth. During the height of the Cold War, the threat included regimental-size raids of Tu-16 Badgerand Tu-22M Backfirebombers equipped with high-speed cruise missiles and considerable Electronic Counter Measures(ECM) of various types. The upgraded Phoenix, the AIM-54C, was developed to better counter projected threats from tactical aircraft and cruise missiles, and its final upgrade included a re-programmable memory capability to keep pace with emerging threat ECM. It is thought that the Phoenix was based on the similar AIM-47missile. The AIM-47 was developed for the experimental Mach-3 Lockheed YF-12interceptor version of their venerable SR-71 Blackbird.
U.S. Air Forceadopted neither the AIM-47, nor the AIM-54, operationally. The Air Force had no similar capability with the F-15 Eagleuntil the introduction of the AIM-120 AMRAAM. The latest model, AIM-120C-7, has a range of 72 miles (120 km), still significantly less than the retired AIM-54.
The associated AWG-9 radar system carried by the F-111B and F-14 Tomcat was one of largest and most powerful ever fitted to a fighter.
The AIM-54 Phoenix was retired from USN service on
September 30, 2004. F-14 Tomcats were retired on September 22, 2006. They were replaced by shorter-range AIM-120 AMRAAMs, employed on the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. Both the F-14 Tomcat and AIM-54 Phoenix missile continue in the service of the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force, although the operational abilities of these aircraft and the missiles are questionable, since the United States refused to supply spare parts and maintenance after the 1979 revolution; except for a brief period during the Iran-Contra Affair(see F-14 Tomcatfor more details).
Despite the much-vaunted capabilities, the Phoenix was rarely used in combat, with only two confirmed launches and no confirmed targets destroyed in U.S. Navy service, though several kills were claimed by Iranian F-14s during the
Iran–Iraq War.Fact|date=February 2007 The USAF F-15 Eagle had responsibility for overland Combat Air Patrol(CAP) duties in Desert Stormin 1991, primarily because of the onboard F-15 IFF capabilities; the Tomcat did not have the requisite IFF capability mandated by the JFACCto satisfy the Rules of Engagement (ROE) in order to utilize the Phoenix capability at Beyond Visual Range(BVR). From an engineering and service standpoint, the Phoenix could be said to be a notable success. However, as the only surviving member of the Falcon missile family, it was not adopted by any other nation (besides Iran), any other U.S. armed service, or even supported by any other aircraft. It was heavy, large, expensive and not practical in close combat compared to the Sparrow or AMRAAM.
;AIM-54A: The original version to become operational, in 1974 and exported to Iran.
;AIM-54C: Improved version, better able to counter
cruise missiles. Superseded the AIM-54A from 1986.
;AIM-54 ECCM/Sealed: Improved to include electronic counter-countermeasure capabilities, does not require coolant conditioning during captive flight. Used from 1988 onwards.
:Because the AIM-54 ECCM/Sealed receives no coolant, Tomcats carrying this version of the missile may not exceed a certain airspeed.
In recent years,
Iranclaims to have developed its own version of the Phoenix, equivalent to the AIM-54C version.cn
There were also test, evaluation, ground training and captive air training versions of the missile; designated ATM-54, AEM-54, DATM-54A, and CATM-54. The flight versions had A and C versions. The DATM-54 was not made in a C version as there was no change in the ground handling characteristics.
Iranian combat experiences with the AIM-54 Phoenix
Little to nothing is known about Iran's use of its 79 F-14A Tomcats (delivered prior to 1979) in most western outlets; the exception being a book released by
Osprey Publishingtitled "Iranian F-14 Tomcats in Combat" authored by Tom Cooperand Farzad Bishop. [ [http://www.acig.org/artman/publish/article_452.shtml Book: Iranian F-14 Tomcat Units in Combat ] ] Most of the research contained in the book was based on pilot interviews and though it may be the only book devoted to the topic of Iranian F-14s, it is not without its critics.
Reports on the use of the 285 missiles supplied to Iran [ [http://www.aerospaceweb.org/question/planes/q0077.shtml Aerospaceweb.org | Ask Us - Iranian Air Force F-14 ] ] , during the
Iran–Iraq War, from 1980-88 vary. It is rumored that U.S. technical personnel sabotaged the aircraft and weapons before they left the country following the 1979 Iranian Revolution, making it impossible to fire the missile. However, the IRIAF was able to repair the sabotage and the damage only affected a limited number of planes; not the entire fleet.
Some western sources claim that it is unlikely that the Phoenix was used operationally. First, as difficult as the missile and fire control systems were to operate, Iran had hired many American technicians. Upon leaving, they took most of the knowledge about how to operate and maintain these complex weapon systems with them. Also, without a steady supply of engineering support from Hughes Aircraft Missile Systems Group and corresponding spares and upgrades, even a technically competent operator would have extreme difficulty fielding operational weapons.
Most informed sources claim that the primary use of the
F-14was as an airborne early warningaircraft, guarded by other fighters. However, Cooper claims that the IRIAF used the F-14 actively as a fighter-interceptor, and at times as an escort fighter with the AIM-54 scoring 60-70 kills. F-14s were often used to protect IRIAF tankers supporting strike packages into Iraq, and scanned over the border with their radars, often engaging detected Iraqi flights. Also, some F-14s were modified into specialized airborne early warningaircraft.
Supporters of these claims point to the fact that, in the 1991 Gulf War, Iraqi fighter pilots consistently turned and fled as soon as American F-14 pilots turned on their fighters' very distinctive
AN/AWG-9radars, which suggests that Iraqi pilots had learned to avoid the F-14. The counter-argument is that virtually all Iraqi fighters turned and fled when confronted, regardless of the type of aircraft facing them, although the USAF had much better success engaging Iraqi fighters with their F-15Eagles in the same vicinity where Tomcats operated.
According to Cooper, the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force was able to keep its F-14 fighters and AIM-54 missiles in regular use during the whole of the Iran–Iraq War, though periodic lack of spares grounded at times large parts of the fleet. At worst, during late 1987, the stock of AIM-54 missiles was at its lowest, with less than 50 operational missiles available. The missiles needed fresh
thermal batteriesthat could only be purchased from the USA. Iran managed finally, to find a clandestine buyer that supplied the it with batteries - though those did cost up to $10,000 USD each. Iran did receive spares and parts for both the F-14s and AIM-54s from various sources during the Iran–Iraq War, and has received more spares after the conflict.Fact|date=February 2007 Iran started a heavy industrial program to build spares for the planes and missiles,Fact|date=February 2007 and although there are claims that it no longer relies on outside sources to keep its F-14s and AIM-54s operational, there is evidence that Iran continues to procure parts clandestinely. [cite web | last = Theimer| first = Sharon | title = Iran Gets Army Gear in Pentagon Sale | url=http://www.forbes.com/feeds/ap/2007/01/16/ap3334088.html | accessdate = 2007-01-17 ]
American combat experience
Gulf of Sidra incident (1981), in which American F-14s shot down 2 Libyan Su-22s, is sometimes thought to have involved AIM-54s. However, the engagement was conducted at short ranges using the AIM-9 Sidewinder. The other U.S. F-14 fighter to fighter engagement, the Gulf of Sidra incident (1989), used AIM-7 Sparrowand Sidewinder missiles, but not the Phoenix.
*In training, the Phoenix hit a target drone at a range of 212 km (in January 1979, in Iran).
*On January 5, 1999, pair of U.S. F-14s fired two AIM-54 at Iraqi
MiG-25s southeast of Baghdad. [ [http://www.defenselink.mil/transcripts/transcript.aspx?transcriptid=852 DoD News Briefing January 5, 1999] ]
(Source [Navy Fact file. [http://www.navy.mil/navydata/fact_display.asp?cid=2200&tid=700&ct=2 AIM-54 Phoenix Missile] .] )
*Primary function: Long-range air-launched air intercept missile
Hughes Aircraft Companyand Raytheon Corporation
*Unit cost: US$477,131
*Power Plant: Solid propellant rocket motor built by Hercules
*Length: 13 ft (3.9 m)
*Weight: 1,000-1,040 lb (460 kg)
*Diameter: 15 in (380 mm)
*Wing span: 3 ft (900 mm)
*Range: In excess of 100 nautical miles (115 statute miles, 184 km)¹
*Speed: 3,000+ mph (4,680+ km/h)
*Guidance system: Semi-active and active radar homing
Proximity fuze, high explosive
*Warhead weight: 135 lb (60 kg)
*Users: USA (
U.S. Navy), Iran ( IRIAF)
*Date deployed: 1974
*Date retired (U.S.):
September 30 2004:Note 1: Actual range classified
*Medium range air-to-air missiles:
AIM-7 Sparrow, MBDA Meteor, AIM-120 AMRAAM
*Short range air-to-air missiles:
Vympel R-33(AA-9 Amos), the Russian air-to-air missile most similar to the AIM-54 Phoenix
List of missiles
Combat history of the F-14
* [http://www.designation-systems.net/dusrm/m-54.html Directory of U.S. Military Rockets and Missiles: AIM-54]
* [http://www.fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/missile/aim-54.htm FAS AIM-54 page]
* [http://www.nasa.gov/centers/dryden/research/Phoenix/phoenixmissile.html NASA Dryden Flight Research Center - Phoenix Missile Hypersonic Testbed]
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